Tropical Forages

Stylosanthes fruticosa

Scientific name
Stylosanthes fruticosa (Retz.) Alston

Basionym: Arachis fruticosa Retz.; Stylosanthes bojeri Vogel; Stylosanthes mucronata Willd.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Dalbergieae subtribe: Stylosanthinae.

Morphological description

Woody perennial herb to shrub, 0.1‒1 m tall, usually with a thick woody rootstock and many branches.  Stems pubescent to densely hairy.  Leaves trifoliolate; leaflets oblong-elliptic or linear-lanceolate, acute at base and apex, 5‒33 mm long, 1‒9 mm wide, usually pubescent and bristly.  Flowers cream to yellow, 3‒5 borne in dense oblong terminal heads; calyx-lobes 2‒4 mm long.  Standard 5‒7 mm long, 4‒5 mm wide.  Pod 4‒9 mm long with 1 or 2 segments 3.5‒4 mm long, 2‒2.5 mm wide and a slightly curved beak 1‒3 mm long, usually densely pubescent; seeds 1.5‒2 mm long.  240,000‒360,000 seeds per kg.

Similar species

S. fruticosa is not reliably distinguishable morphologically from S. scabra

Common names

English: African stylo, wild lucerne, shrubby pencilflower

Africa: bâda gotur, bala korama (Senegal); mbono muso, nbono, damel (The Gambia); guirti, kassantouri, dakadake (Zarma/Niger, Nigeria, Benin)

India: saillekampa, sella kampa సెల్లకంప , saali kampa సాలి కంప (Telugu)



Africa: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia,  Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa (Cape Province, KwaZulu-Natal, Transvaal), Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Indian Ocean: Madagascar

Asia: India, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Yemen


S fruticosa has been used in pasture in mixtures with perennial grasses. It is heavily grazed by livestock in native pastures in Africa.


It is used to improve fertility of fallow areas through leaf drop and nitrogen fixation.  Prostrate forms are useful for soil erosion control.  It has also been intercropped with millet in dry areas.


In India, the powdered plant and leaf are used in traditional medicine.


Found in grassland, woodland, scrub and weed of old cultivations.

Soil requirements

While growing well on sandy well-drained alkaline soils, it is tolerant of acid and clay soils.  It grows well in soils from pH 4 to 8 and is tolerant of low phosphorus.


Rainfall in its natural range varies from 350 to 1,500 mm/year.  The species is moderately tolerant of waterlogging and very tolerant of drought.  It can behave as an annual in areas with very poor rainfall.


Occurs from sea level up to about 2,000 m asl in the tropics.  It has no tolerance of heavy frosts, although it can tolerate short cool periods and light frosts better than some other Stylosanthes species.


Can tolerate light shade and frequently grows under Acacia in the African savannas.

Reproductive development

Plants are day neutral, usually flowering in less than 60 days in the tropics. Temperature is critical for flowering with peak flowering occurring in daytime temperatures from 25 to 30 ºC.  Temperatures above 30 ºC can affect flowering.


Tolerates moderate, but not heavy grazing.


Like S. scabrait is not tolerant of fire. Plants establish rapidly after fire from the hard seeds remaining in the soil if there is sufficient moisture.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


Establishment of is similar to that for other Stylosanthes species.  Establishment is by seed at rates of 3‒6 kg/ha.  Seeds are hard and require scarification before planting to ensure uniform germination.  Seeds are small and seedbeds should be well prepared to a fine, firm tilth.  Seeds are best sown just below the surface, lightly covered and rolled.  Germination occurs in about 2‒5 days and young seedlings emerge about 1 week after planting.  It can also be oversown into pastures by broadcasting, followed by a light harrowing.  is not reported to have specific rhizobium requirements and in its native habitat it readily nodulates with native rhizobia.


There is no information available that would allow to draw generalised conclusions on the species.

Compatibility (with other species)

Compatible with perennial grasses that are protected from heavy grazing, including Andropogon gayanus, Heteropogon contortus and Hyparrhenia hirta.  Can be inter-cropped with millet in the Sahel.

Companion species

Grasses:  Andropogon gayanus, Urochloa humidicola, Cenchrus ciliaris, Cynodon dactylon, Heteropogon contortus

Legumes:  Chamaecrista rotundifolia, Stylosanthes scabra

Pests and diseases

Although reported susceptible to anthracnose in Queensland, Australia and in Colombia, several tolerant accessions have been observed in trials in Africa.

Ability to spread

Hard seeds may be dispersed by water and small animals and remain in the soil for several years allowing pastures to regrow annually.

Weed potential

Low weed potential due to high palatability and low tolerance of heavy grazing and fire.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

Although the nutritive value is not as high as that of other more leafy legumes, crude protein levels reported are 7‒17% of dry matter.  Reported digestibility is 66%.


Much sought after by livestock and heavily grazed.


No information available.

Feedipedia link

Production potential
Dry matter

DM production from small plots was 6,000 kg/ha, while lower yields of up to 3,000 kg/ha were more commonly obtained in the Sahel.

Animal production

For high DM intake of 71 g/kg W0.75has been reported, indicating the species could have reasonable potential for livestock production.


2n = 40.  This outcrossing species is an allotetraploid closely related to and has been classified with it on morphological grounds, although more recent genetic studies using RAPDs, RFLPs and chloroplast DNA show that they are distinct taxa.  It is also related to the other African species, S. erecta, and it is reported that it possibly hybridizes naturally with it where the two species overlap, leading to hybrid populations with broad variation.

Seed production

Plants start to flower after only 2 months, towards the end of the rains, and mature seeds are ready for harvest about 4‒5 months after planting.  The species is reported as a heavy seeder, although due to the small seed size it only yielded about 15‒20 kg seeds/ha.  The pods are firmly held by bracts and seeds are best harvested by cutting the entire plant when the majority of pods are mature, drying and beating so that the pods fall.  The seeds are extracted from the pods by a belt thresher or by hand rubbing.  Seeds are hard-seeded and store well.

Herbicide effects

No information available.

  • Drought tolerant.
  • Palatable.
  • Extends to moderate altitude subtropics (veld region in South Africa) and there it regenerates after severe frosts.
  • Cannot withstand heavy grazing.
  • Relatively low productivity compared to other species of Stylosanthes.
  • Most observed genotypes are susceptible to anthracnose.
Selected references

Hakiza, J.J., Lazier J.R. and Sayers, A.R. (1987) Characterization and evaluation of forage legumes in Ethiopia: preliminary examination of variation between accessions of Stylosanthes fruticosa (Retz.) Alston. In: Dzowela, B.H. (ed) African forage plant genetic resources, evaluation of forage germplasm and extensive livestock production systems. Proceedings of the 3rd PANESA workshop, Arusha, Tanzania, 27–30 April 1987. p. 174–191.

Kouame C.N., Powell, J.M., Renard, C.A. and Quesenberry, K.H. (1993) Plant yields and fodder quality related characteristics of millet-stylo intercropping systems in the Sahel. Agronomy Journal 85:601–605.

Liu, C.J., Musial, J.M. and Thomas, B.D. (1999) Genetic relationships among Stylosanthes species revealed by RFLP and STS analyses. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 99:1179–1186.

Stace, H.M. and Edye, L.A. (eds) (1984) The biology and agronomy of Stylosanthes. Academic Press, Sydney, Australia.

Vander Stappen, J. and Volckaert, G. (1999) Molecular characterization and classification of Stylosanthes mexicana, S. macrocarpa, S. seabrana and S. fruticosa by DNA sequence analysis of two chloroplast regions. DNA Sequence 10:199–202.



Promising accessions

CPI 41219A This accession was consistently amongst the highest yielding and persistent accessions of the many compared in northern Australia in the 1970s. It, along with all other S. fruticosa accessions in those comparisons, was badly affected by anthracnose in about 1974 and further work with the species ceased at that time. In the event that anthacnose can be overcome, this accession should be considered in any future work.   

ILRI 13860 In evaluation in Ethiopia, this tall ecotype from Sadoré, Niger was particularly high yielding.